It’s 1992, the National Youth Choir of Great Britain are about five weeks into an eight week world tour and we’ve just arrived in Brisbane, on Australia’s east coast.
For most of the tour—don’t ask what happened in Sydney—we were relying on home-stay accommodation with local choirs and churches, mostly. The drill was the same whenever we rolled into a new city: drop off at a church or school, meet our hosts and then head back to theirs to settle in.
My best mate Danny and I were billeted together for the entire tour, so off we headed to our new host’s house in the outskirts of Brisbane.
“We’ve only got one guest bedroom,” Mr Johnson explained en route. “So, we’ve set up a camp bed in the garage. I hope that’s okay.”
“Yeah, no problem,” Danny and I said in unison.
We looked at each other on the back seat of the car.
“I’m happy to sleep there,” I said. “You can have the guest room.”
“You sure? Okay.”
Half an hour later we pulled up on the drive outside a large house with a double garage which we headed to with our luggage.
“Gareth, you’re in here,” said Mr Johnson.
There was no room for a car but it was unmistakably a garage with all the usual domestic detritus that usually gravitates towards them, and there in the middle, looking quite out of place, was a queen-size camp bed neatly made up.
I dropped my bags and sat down heavily on the edge of the bed.
The legs immediately gave way and I slid with a thump onto the floor at Mr Johnson’s feet.
Which is when I asked what was now becoming quite a familiar question to me. It was the same question that I asked my brother’s friend Jonathan when I sat on the edge of his bed and it collapsed. It was the same question that I asked when I tried to wind down a gentleman’s car window after he kindly picked me up, at my father’s request, from Matlock railway station and deposit me at the door of the venue of my first National Youth Choir of Great Britain course in 1988 and, to my horror, his car window hopped off its runners and disappeared into the door.
The question: “Is is supposed to do that?”
The answer: “No!”
I felt so embarrassed and kept apologising. “I am so sorry. I’m… I don’t know what to say. I am just so, so sorry.”
“It’s okay, mate!” said Mr Johnson. “But we do just have one other bed now.”
It was a four bedroom house but the other three bedrooms were occupied by Mr and Mrs Johnson and their two daughters. He led us upstairs to view the guest room—a decent size room, with a bright view and a double bed. It would do the job.
Dan and I stood in silence and looked at the bed. And then at one another. We shrugged.
“It’ll be alright, eh?”
The rest of the day was spent in rehearsals and then we returned to our little suburban retreat for dinner and to spend the evening with our hosts. We’d spent a long day travelling up from Coffs Harbour and so were pretty tired so before long we made our excuses and headed up to the room.
At that point, Dan and I had known each other for about three years. We were really good friends, trusted each other with all our important secrets and had a similar, silly sense of humour. I really had no problems sharing a bed with Dan—and did it again about 20 years later when we visited a mutual friend in Luxembourg for 22 hours!
“Goodnight John-Boy!” said Dan as he switched off the light.
I turned away from Dan, towards the wall and drifted off to sleep.
A few hours later I was rudely woken by Danny punching me in the dark.
PUNCH! THUMP! PUNCH!
“WHAT?!” I said, feeling a little agitated, and jumped out of bed.
Danny switched on the bedside lamp and sat up.
“What do you mean ‘WHAT?'”
“What are you punching me for?”
“What do you mean ‘What you are punching me for?’ You were kissing my shoulder and calling me Louise!”
I burst out laughing. “What?!”
“You were kissing my shoulder and calling me Louise!” he said beginning to laugh, himself.
I stood at the end of the bed and looked at Danny. Louise was a girl in the choir with whom I had fallen in love. We had started going out about halfway through the New Zealand leg of the tour. And she was lovely, just lovely. And completely and utterly nothing like Danny’s hairy, manly shoulder. What the hell was I thinking about?!
“I am so sorry,” I said.
“It’s alright,” said Danny, calming down.
There was an awkward silence.
“Did you… did you see the Bears game last night?” I asked, recreating a similar scene from the film Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
I grabbed my pillow and a blanket and lay down on the floor.
“It’s fine. I’ll just sleep here.”
It was draughty and uncomfortable. I wondered if I would get any sleep at all. Dan switched off the light and we lay in our separate spots in an awkward silence.
Two or three minutes later, Dan spoke.
“It’s fine. Just get back into bed.”
“Are you sure?”
“We can build a wall of pillows down the middle.”
I stood up with my pillow and we both burst out laughing. I sat on the bed and swung my legs up.”
“I didn’t see the Bears game last night,” said Danny and we burst into laughter once again.